Scientology Versus The Internet - Notable Legal Actions

Notable Legal Actions

See also: Scientology and the legal system

A few of the court cases were decided in favor of Scientology, while most of the cases were settled out of court. Many cases have been criticized as examples of malicious litigation and its members and lawyers have been indicted and fined for such actions. Noteworthy incidents in the later years of the online war included:

  • Scientology's lawsuit against ex-member Arnaldo Lerma, his provider Digital Gateway, and The Washington Post. Lerma posted the Fishman Affidavit that contained 61 pages including the story of Xenu, a story simultaneously denied and claimed as a trade secret by the Church of Scientology.
  • Zenon Panoussis, a resident of Sweden, was also sued for posting Scientology's copyrighted materials to the Internet. In his defense, he used a provision of the Constitution of Sweden that guarantees access to public documents. Panoussis turned over a copy of the NOTs documents to the office of the Swedish Parliament and, by law, copies of all documents (with few exceptions) received by authorities are available for anyone from the public to see, at any time he or she wishes. This, known as the Principle of Public Access (Offentlighetsprincipen), is considered a basic civil right in Sweden. The case, however, was decided against Panoussis. The results of his case sparked a legal firestorm in Sweden that debated the necessity of re-writing part of the Constitution.
  • In 1995 Scientology caused a raid on the servers of Dutch Internet provider XS4ALL and sued it and Karin Spaink for copyright violations arising from published excerpts from confidential materials. There followed a summary judgment in 1995, full proceedings in 1999, an appeal in 2003 which has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Netherlands in December 2005, all in favor of the provider and Karin Spaink.
  • Dennis Erlich and Scientology settled their lawsuits. Erlich withdrew from the online battle entirely, and all mention of him was removed from Church of Scientology material.
  • Activist Keith Henson was sued for posting a portion of Scientology's writings to the Internet. Henson defended himself in court without a lawyer, while at the same time he carried out protests and pickets against Scientology. The court found that Henson had committed copyright infringement, and the damage award against Henson was immense: $75,000, an amount which Scientology said was the largest damages ever awarded against an individual for copyright infringement. Henson's case became increasingly more complex and ongoing, with a misdemeanor conviction of interfering with religion in Riverside County, California. In his Internet writings, Henson said that he was forced to flee the United States and seek asylum in Canada due to ongoing threats against him.
  • Scientology is one of the first organizations to make use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In June 1999, Scientology used the controversial law to force AT&T Worldnet to reveal the identity of a person who had been posting anonymously to alt.religion.scientology with the pseudonym of "Safe".
  • In March 2001, legal threats from Scientology lawyers forced Slashdot to remove text from one of its discussion boards, after an excerpt from OT III was posted there. Slashdot noted this as the first time a comment had to be removed from its system due to copyright concerns, and retaliated by posting a list of links to anti-Scientology websites.
  • The organization also used the DMCA to force the Google search engine to erase its entries on the controversial anti-Scientology Web site Operation Clambake in March 2002, though the entry was reinstated after Google received a large number of complaints from Internet users. The publicity stemming from this incident led Google to begin submitting DMCA takedown notices it received to the Chilling Effects archive, which archives legal threats of all sorts made against Internet users and Internet sites.
  • In September 2002, lawyers for Scientology contacted Internet Archive (, the administrators of the Wayback Machine and asserted copyright claims on certain materials archived as historical contents of the Operation Clambake site. In response, the Wayback Machine administration removed the archive of the entire Clambake site, initially posting a false claim that the site's author had requested its removal. This claim has been removed but (as of January 2011) the site still returns a "Blocked Site Error" from the Wayback archive.

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